Dekalog 4: ”Honor thy father and thy mother.”

This episode of Dekalog, Dekalog 4: ”Honor thy father and thy mother.”, definitely centers on the commandment to honor thy father and thy mother, but it also relates to the integrity and rigidity of social roles. This one is notable for its superb cinematography (Kieslowski used different cinematographers for most of the episodes). The story tells of Anka, a beautiful twenty-year-old drama student, who lives at home with her father, Michal. The two have a very close, personal relationship, since Anka has been raised entirely by her father following her mother's death when Anka was only five days old.

One day Michal leaves on a business trip for a few weeks, and during his absence, Anka discovers a letter in his desk that says, “to be opened after my death”. So immediately the overwhelming temptation arises to “dishonor” her father’s wishes and see what’s inside the letter. Anka thinks about it, but eventually succumbs and opens it, only to find another letter inside from her deceased mother and addressed directly to her .

When her father returns, Anka angrily confronts her father with what she has learned from the letter: that Michal is not her real, biological father. She is angry that she was never told the “truth”. But her father responds that he never knew the contents of that letter and was never sure about the truth of this, himself, and so he always delayed revealing her mother’s letter to her.

The rest of the film is essentially a long, beautifully photographed, conversation between Michal and Anka to get to the bottom of things. Anka is committed to knowing the truth and avoiding deception, and she gets Michal to swear to revealing his true feelings, no matter how painful. As an actress, Anka has been instructed to find the “inner truth” of a role in order to make it authentic, but it seems to me that this instruction is only a metaphor for more authentic and effective role-playing on the stage and not a sure-fire general prescription for finding absolute truth. In fact Anka's actions over the course of the film reveal subsequently that the truth is often very elusive, indeed.

In the ensuing conversations, Anka reveals to Michal that she has always a more than straightforward filial feelings for Michal -- she has always had ambiguous, long-suppressed urges that suggested to her the romantic love between a man and a woman. She then gets Michal to confess that he, too, has had similar unrealized feelings for her. The implication from all this is that now that she was a mature and biologically unrelated woman, there was no moral law standing in the way of their consummating their long-held-back love. Or was there?

But, of course, for the past twenty years they have developed their relationship as father and daughter. They have been playing those social roles for Anka’s entire life, and how are they now going to be able to alter this fundamental relationship and behaviour? Is this possible, and is it what they really want?

The morning after these searing revelations, Anka runs to her father and confesses that she had never really read her mother’s letter. She had made up the whole story about Michal not being her father and had forged a fake letter in her mother's handwriting to show to Michal. Both she and Michal may have their suspicions about this, but the truth remains buried and unrevealed in her mother’s letter. Nevertheless, this lie of Anka's has led to the revelations of other truths concerning the real feelings between Anka and Michal. She now asks Michal what they should do about the real, still-unread letter. At the moment, the truth is sill unknown, and the "irreversible" change in their relationship has not yet, it seems, taken place.

What they finally decide to do is both satisfying and unsatisfying to the dramatic closure of the story, depending on your own point of view. Because she had lied about that crucial piece of evidence, Anka's actions on that occasion call into question the truth of everything else she has expressed. But that lie reveals a continuation of Anka’s pattern concerning “honoring” her father and her mother. On the surface of things, she has dishonored her parents in many ways, especially when she lied to Michal about having read the letter. And her culminating action at the end of the film concerning the disposition of the real letter is also a dishonoring of her mother's wishes, in a way. But as a student of drama, she must be aware of the necessary ambiguity of all the roles one plays, both on the stage and in society at large. And perhaps that ambiguity, that subtlety, has its own authenticity, its own inner truth.